Springfield, Missouri lawmakers have failed to correct a decade-old mistake, delaying for 90 days a vote on repealing a number of breed-specific regulations targeting pit bull-type dogs.
Enacted in 2006, the current law in Missouri’s capital requires owners to register “any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog that closely resembles any of these breeds.” Owners must also spay or neuter these dogs and have them microchipped. Those who don’t follow the law face prosecution.
The delayed measure, which was considered on January 23, would remove these regulations and treat these animals the same as all other dogs.
Contrary to what supporters claim, breed-specific measures like the one in Springfield do not protect people or dogs. They prioritize ideology and emotion over animal care, sometimes requiring putting dogs to death instead of providing them a loving home.
Scientific research has shown for years the stark truth about dangerous animals: Aggression is most frequently due to either abuse a lack of training. Measures like the one in Missouri do little but further discriminatory stereotypes.
A 2014 literature review by the American Veterinary Medical Association Animal Welfare Division is instructive. The authors note that the prevalence of “pit bull-type dogs” in “the…number of cases that resulted in very severe injuries or fatalities” may be accounted for in large part because of “the popularity of the breed in the victim’s community, reporting biases and the dog’s treatment by its owner (e.g., use as fighting dogs -- note 21).”
The peer-reviewed study, which examined 35 years of studies and reviews, further noted:
Owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma, however controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous….
It should also be considered that the incidence of pit bull-type dogs’ involvement in severe and fatal attacks may represent high prevalence in neighborhoods that present high risk to the young children who are the most common victim of severe or fatal attacks. And as owners of stigmatized breeds are more likely to have involvement in criminal and/or violent acts —breed correlations may have the owner’s behavior as the underlying causal factor.
In other words: Not only is blaming the dog’s breed for its behavior unfair, it is also completely inaccurate. Focusing on dogs instead of those who mistreat them leaves the culprit free to harm other dogs and people.
The study also refuted the common misconception that “pit bulls” are a specific breed of dog. Rather, it is often used as a catch-all term that “is particularly ambiguous,” wrote the study’s authors, “that cannot be reliably” used to identify dogs. It is simply another way to unfairly group a number of actual breeds into a derogatory category of dog based on appearance.
A majority of U.S. states have localities with breed-specific legislation, a shocking violation of equal treatment under the law for pet owners. These states would be wise to follow the lead of the Netherlands, which in 2009 repealed its six-year old pit bull ban because it didn’t work. Likewise, state legislators and others should listen to the Chief Inspector of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who has said that Great Britain’s Dangerous Dogs Act “does not work, it has never worked.”
Domestically, legislators in New York, Washington State, and Missouri have introduced bills this year to move towards animal equality. These state bills would overrule local laws that target specific breeds, in the same way that Ohio and Arizona last year established state control over retail pet sales.
There are ways to reduce the incidence of dog bites while increasing the value and prevalence of the human-animal bond. But discrimination against innocent dogs is not the way to go. The time and resources spent enforcing these misguided laws would be better spent on educating pet owners and the general public about the importance of proper training and handling of all dogs.
Mike Bober is President and CEO of the Pet Industry Advisory Council (PIJAC), where he advocates for the responsible pet industry and to improve the human-animal relationship. He previously served as PIJAC’s Vice President of Public Affairs. Find out more about PIJAC at its website.